INDIANAPOLIS _ The Tennessee Titans got a grim reminder Sunday that there is still work to be done before this team can be considered a true contender.
The joy that permeated the team after a blowout of Green Bay a week ago dissipated as the Colts used a fast start and then hung on to top the Titans, 24-17.
At 5-6 now, the Titans are still alive in the division race, but now face the reality that with five games remaining, they can ill afford the one step forward, one step back routine that has marked the 2016 season too often.
On Sunday, Indianapolis scored on its first three possessions, jumping out to a 21-0 lead and leaving the Titans reeling for much of the first half.
“You can’t come into their place and spot them 21 points, but we did,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. “We had a chance to come back in the second half. We gave ourselves a chance in the second half. I like the way our guys responded, but we can’t do that against them in this stadium.
“That’s part of the process. We’ve got to learn how to win games and not get behind.”
Chunk plays burned the Titans, especially early in the game, as Indy downed Tennessee for the 11th straight time and kept intact streaks of the Titans having never won at Lucas Oil Stadium and having never beaten Andrew Luck.
“You can’t spot a team like that 21-0,” receiver Kendall Wright said.
Sunday’s game definitely should have been a red-letter day for the Titans, who desperately wanted to end those bad streaks, but instead came out “flat,” even by Mularkey’s own admission.
It defied explanation for the players when it was over.
“I don’t know how to explain it. If you ask me, we’ve got every game circled. We’ve got to take it week by week. Every game counts. But it’s definitely one we wanted to win,” Wright said.
A 33-yard pass interference call on Jason McCourty against receiver Phillip Dorsett, helping set up a 1-yard TD run by Robert Turbin.
Meanwhile, the Titans offense sputtered, as DeMarco Murray had just 16 yards rushing in the first half and the Titans had only one first down in the first quarter.
“It just comes down to execution and being on the same page. A lot of times we’re hurting ourselves and putting ourselves in third-and-long or getting penalties, which makes for tougher situations. Those are things that can be cleaned up,” said quarterback Marcus Mariota, who played well going 25 of 38 for 290 yards and two scores.
The Colts, on the other hand, stayed hot with Luck finding Donte Moncrief for a 2-yard TD shortly after a 49-yard trick play that resulted in a Luck to Frank Gore pass.
In the second quarter, Indy added its third touchdown – this one on a pass from Luck to T.Y. Hilton of 2 yards.
The Titans only salvation in the first half was a late drive that finally got them on the scoreboard with Mariota tossing a 2-yard TD to Murray.
The second half was better for the Titans, who closed to within 21-17 on a 34-yard touchdown pass to Tajae Sharpe and a 47-yard field goal by Ryan Succop.
But the Colts tacked on a field goal, and a final chance for the Titans to tie the game was snuffed out when Murray was stuffed at the 19 yard line on fourth-and-1 with just 2:42 to go.
“On fourth and one, that’s your identity and you’ve got to make a first down on that play, somehow some way try and make a yard,” Mularkey said.
From there, all the Colts had to do was take a knee until the clock and the Titans’ hopes to finally end their struggles against them disappeared. Now, with five games left, it’s back to trying to rebound next week in Chicago.
“If we want want to be where we want to be, then we have to step up and make plays in certain situations, and that’s got to be the expectation,” Mariota said.